What An Edible Mace Looks Like

Long time ago, frustrated with what I thought was the small-town life of the mini-city I grew up in, I rather ungratefully announced to my mother that I would "get out of this shit hole and never come back" because "there's nothing worth staying here for anyway".

I've eaten my words since. I was wrong. I was an annoying, whiny brat back then. There's such a much wider scope of things to love here that seventeen-year-old me never understood at the time. I'm not going to go into all of that, of course, because that would make for much too long a blog-post to initiate at almost 3am, but one of the things that I love here, in this little coastal city at the tip of Borneo island, is the edibles.

I love the cuisine here, how we enjoy dishes that people in most places - even West Malaysia - would never have the luxury to try, and mostly because much of our fresh produce are still jungle produce. We have ferns cooked in fermented prawn paste for dinner, sago grubs as the occasional snack. A raw fish cerviche as a commonly-served appetiser, wild boar at barbeques... where else in the world does urban living still co-exist so closely with the traditional?

Since I've been back, all I've wanted to taste... this intense hunger and curiosity to indulge myself in, is all the local dishes and the wild produce unique to Sarawak. And since it's the durian season now, it seems apt that I wax lyrical about the wild durian.

Before I move on to that... I need to proclaim my overwhelming love for durian. I love durian in all its forms, fermented as a condiment, frozen as ice-cream, boiled with sugar into a sticky sweet we know as durian cake or dodol durian... I'll scoff it all.

But my true love is the wild durian, which doesn't really taste exactly like the super-pungent, over-sweet, over-ripe cultivated durians we enjoy here in Malaysia (the Thais prefer a milder-smelling, less-ripened versh of the King of Fruits).

There are many species of wild durians, but the locals generally differentiate them as two varieties: isu and ikak ('rian isu and buah ngekak according to a friend). I'm just a n00b predominantly preoccupied with stuffing my gob, so I guess I wouldn't know if I've had the latter, which apparently only fruits end of the season, but I know I've definitely enjoyed the former.

Here's how durian isu looks like:

It's very much smaller than the cultivated durians, even more so compared to the humongous Thai varieties, and are about the size of a grape-fruit, or maybe a touch larger, with longer, more slender spikes.

However, the most jarringly striking difference is only obvious when you open one. The creamy flesh that encloses the seeds within are a shockingly bright colour - usually anything from a brilliant turmeric-yellow to a reddish-orange.

And the taste? It varies from fruit to fruit, and isn't easy to describe, complex in flavours as all durians are. It's definitely not as pungent as its famous cousin, and the flesh is creamier, to the point of being sticky, and expected from a fruit that grows wild, not as thick and lush in yield as the cultivated durian.

I've read someone describe the flavour as burnt almonds, which I do agree to a degree, but doesn't quite encompass the full range of flavours it really has... I'd say more a burnt caramel, with very distinct nutty undertones and not just a tiny hint of ripe jack-fruit.

As with all durians, there will be variations in that multi-layered palette of flavours. These were given to me last weekend - the brighter yellow ones on the bottom has a slightly more bitter, astringent flavour that is common to durians (some people prefer that quality over the cloyingly sweet ones):

The durian flesh with the more orangey colouration was sweeter and very thick and rich. This one had a particularly pleasing burnt sugar flavour that I really enjoyed:

You may have noticed how much thinner the durian flesh is, compared to the cultivated durian, which is good, in a way, because my IBS tummy no longer accepts copious amount of the rich, creamy fruit. =(

Anyway, I plan to feature more local edibles here on my blog... because with the current rate of deforestation and encroaching modernity (many are starting to disregard all these things I love about being home), I guess it's only a matter of time before we begin to forget about these simple little treasures found here. Many people I know here don't even quite know about any of these anymore, especially those of my generation onwards.

It only feels right to start writing again about the things that made me fall in love with the place I never truly knew how to appreciate, until now.


David said...

The variety of cuisines from all over Asia is amazing.

Durian is a most interesting fruit. Not available in the part of North America, NA, I call home.
My wife tried durian in the Philippines, and found she could only consume candied durian. From travelers I have met and read about on food blogs, durian is either a fruit one loves immensley, or dislikes so much from both smell and taste that it becomes a lifelong aversion.

I have read several food bloggers, from NA, have really tried to develop a taste for durian. However after multiple trips to Malaysia, SG or the Philippines, one food blogger finally admited, the pungent smell and taste of durian defeated him.

IOW, durian is an acquired taste.

CreativeBitchin said...

cultivate and wild durians do taste distinctively different, and i guess acquired tastes are partly cultural things (although a german man here who's crazier over the fruit than i am). my parents can't stand the smell or flavour of blue cheese even those they don't mind durians.